Money for correctional officer training spent on other projects

DOVER — A portion of the $1.3 million earmarked after the prison riot last year as an “investment in new equipment and training for correctional officers” by the governor’s office was reallocated for other projects, according to the Department of Correction.

Those projects included Muslim services for inmates, more fleet vehicles for DOC staff, and cameras at a probation and parole building.

In the wake of the Feb. 1 inmate uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center that left Lt. Steven Floyd dead, the $1.3 million sum was repeatedly touted by Gov. John Carney’s office as an investment to pay for initiatives needed to address the systemic ills in the state’s prisons.

However, according to Claire DeMatteis, the governor-appointed DOC special assistant, the funds were an ordinary allocation in the state’s budgetary process and as part of DOC’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget (which began July 1), it was at the agency’s discretion as to how to best spend the money.

“The monies were allocated as part of the normal budget process, recommended by the governor and approved by the General Assembly,” she said.

“The funds were spent to support officer safety and training, including equipment. The funds were not allocated solely as a response to the Feb. 1-2 hostage crisis.”

In response to questions about why the governor’s office claimed the $1.3 million was an investment specifically in correctional officer equipment and training knowing that it could be allocated at the DOC’s discretion, Carney spokesman Jonathan Starkey said: “The DOC is investing $1.3 million in CO equipment and training, as we represented in communications last year.”

How was money spent?

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Delaware State News, the DOC provided an accounting of how the $1.3 million — actually $1,244,500 — was to be spent. Broken into several categories, the document noted:

• $87,100 was being spent on net travel/training

• $861,300 was being spent on converting the department’s firearms to .40-caliber

• $31,000 was being spent on recruitment efforts

• $65,100 was being spent on ballistic vests

• $200,000 was being spent toward adding security cameras in JTVCC

Although almost 70 percent of the allocation was earmarked for the firearm conversion project, the document provided through the FOIA notes that $343,600 of those funds were “transfered to fund other critical department-wide operating, contractual and training needs.” That included items such as Muslim services for inmates, probation and parole training room equipment, security cameras for a probation and parole facility in New Castle, “fleet vehicles,” and an offender grievance review project at JTVCC and officer leadership and crisis management training conducted by Wilmington University.

In response to questions about why that money was transferred, Ms. DeMatteis said it was “excess funds” because the firearm project was originally funded with the assumption of fully staffed prisons.

“The reason the .40-caliber weapons budget line had excess funds,” she said, “was because the General Assembly funded the conversion on the basis of DOC being fully staffed. With the officer vacancies, there were unspent funds that DOC re-allocated as allowed.”

As of early March, the DOC reported 275 vacant correctional officer positions. Correctional officers involved with transportation, emergency response teams and officers doing perimeter patrols or manning towers are armed, but those working inside the prisons — the vast majority — are not.
Ms. DeMatteis said the “excess” funds were spent “wisely, legitimately and transparently.”

Specifically in reference to fleet vehicles (leased from the state), Ms. DeMatteis noted that investing in correctional officers includes supervising officers. The DOC uses fleet vehicles for inmate transportation and take-home vehicles for administrators.

“Wardens, deputy wardens, majors and etc. are correctional officers too,” she said. “Every other Delaware law enforcement agency provides fleet vehicles to officers. The DOC is Delaware’s largest law enforcement agency. DOC needs fleet vehicles like every other law enforcement agency.”

In reference to religious services, she noted that investing in officers also includes programming for inmates “as it makes their jobs a tad bit calmer.”

As for funds reallocated to probation and parole facilities and training rooms (where no correctional officers work), Ms. DeMatteis said: “Probation and parole officers are part of the DOC team.”

Need for guns

In the wake of the Feb. 1 prison riot, Gov. Carney ordered an independent review of the incident.

The 159-page final report, conducted by former Family Court judge William Chapman Jr. and former U.S. attorney Charles Oberly III, said that long-standing issues within Vaughn prison provided “fertile ground for chaos and violence in the facility.”

The report made suggestions for urgently needed correctional officer equipment and training. A caliber conversion and ballistic vests were not among the recommendations.

In the equipment section specifically, the report noted that “hardware/server infrastructure,” cameras and radios were the most crucially needed pieces of correctional officer equipment.

An amount of $2 million was appropriated separately for installing cameras at JTVCC — a project the DOC has reported is under way.

However, Ms. DeMatteis said that the conversion to .40-caliber had been planned in advance and was crucial to the DOC’s mission.

“The decision to convert from .38 caliber to .40 caliber pre-dates the February 1-2 prison siege,” she said. “The .38 caliber weapon is outdated and ammunition for it is very hard to obtain. Other Delaware law enforcement agencies made the conversion for the very same reason. Had DOC not made the decision to convert, it very likely could have been an issue for the Independent Review Team.”

According to DOC officials, the funds spent on the conversion included “weapon trainings, ammunition, targets, eye and ear protection, duty belts, mag pouches, holsters, belt keepers, weapons and etc.”

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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